Challenges with Cultural Exhibits: Native Voices

nickThe following post is by our Native Voices Exhibit Mentor, Nickolas Nelson:

My name is Nickolas Nelson and I am an Exhibit Mentor for the Native Voices exhibit. My time as a mentor allows the opportunity for me to witness first-hand the fun and exciting adventures that Native Voices has to offer. However, working with such an exhibit does have its challenges.

In Native Voices, we want to give families insight into how a group of people previously lived, but to also provide information as to their contemporary lifestyles, belief systems, customs, and ideals. This is challenging because a majority of information about indigenous cultures is based on stereotypes and misinformation. For example, many books and other publications continue to place indigenous people in the past leading audiences to disconnect indigenous peoples from contemporary culture. The goal of Native Voices is to dispel this misinformation. Once the stigma and stereotypes have been explained away, true growth and knowledge can ensue.

This is where I come in! As an exhibit mentor, it’s my job not only to help maintain the exhibit but also engage with visitors via programs and answering questions. I love being in the exhibit with families and seeing how they interact and learn together. The questions that they ask are always so curious and intuitive. I once had a child ask me “Where are they now?” I couldn’t help but laugh as I explained that Native Americans are everywhere and that he may have some Native American heritage in his family as well. He was so excited by the thought that he could be Mashpee Wampanoag or Aquinnah Wampanoag. In fact, later his mom shared that he was Mashpee Wampanoag along with a few other cultures that ultimately made up their family. This opportunity may never have happened if they hadn’t visited the exhibit and asked those questions.

Our hope with Native Voices is to properly educate the public on the past while also making clear that Native American culture is very much prevalent in the United States today. The exhibit provides visitors with a chance to experience fun, hands-on activities that explain this interesting and beautiful way of life. The exhibit is captivating for all ages and any background, a wonderful dive into the education of new cultures past and present.

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Native Voices will be hitting the road for another special tour! Watch my recent interview here with New England Cable News to learn more about this exciting project.

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